To be Avenue or City?

By Reg Nelson

Growing up as a child in the late 50’s, and early 60’s in Manningham we played backstreet football until it was too dark to see the ball. Our heroes were Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney, but we were also aware of that giant of a man John Charles. We were told about Duncan Edwards and the Munich tragedy, and how he would have become the greatest player on the planet. Our elders talked about seeing the genius of Len Shackleton at Avenue, and how he was sold `for a song’. Then we witnessed that marvellous double-winning Spurs side that seemed to take football to a new level.

As far as far-flung football was concerned we were infatuated by the great Real Madrid. We saw live on television the night Eintracht Frankfurt had the audacity to take the lead in the 1960 European Cup Final against them. What followed next was unbelievable artistry from Di Stefano and Gento.

Living in Bradford we were fed a diet of lower division soccer- but we still followed the local teams.

My father was an Avenue fan- but he had the democratic idea of introducing me to live football at Park Avenue one week, and Valley Parade the next. Not once did he try to influence me into being an Avenue fan. He was probably mindful of our location which comprised of mainly claret and amber fans. In my young, naive mind I found nothing wrong in supporting both teams, and my resourceful mother knit me scarves and `pom-pom’ hats in both green and white, and claret and amber.

Looking back, much of the football was dire, but there were two magical events which caught my imagination. City was on a great FA Cup run in the 1959/1960 season, and wiped out First Division Everton 3-0 in the Third Round. I remember little Bobby Collins struggling in midfield as the play bypassed him.     After a Fourth Round win against Bournemouth, City was paired with Burnley in an epic Fifth Round tie at Valley Parade.

Burnley, who was champions elect of the top flight, was regarded alongside Tottenham Hotspur as the artisans of the English game. Players like Jimmy Mcilroy, Ray Pointer, Jimmy Adamson and John Connelly were household names. I went to the match assuming City would lose, but looking forward to seeing these star palyers.

Astonishingly City took a 2-goal lead and was heading for victory until the very last minute when Burnley equalised from a disputed free-kick.  I headed home in utter shock and I learnt at an early age (8) that life can be so cruel. Later I heard that Burnley said that it was a mud bath and things would be different in the reply. It was!

The second magical event was Avenue’s promotion under Jimmy Scoular in the 1960/1961 season. That season, Peterborough was flying in their first season in the Football League and Millwall were also excellent.  Avenue was always in touch and made it after beating the aforementioned sides late in the season in front of big crowds at home. Another highlight was when the Czechoslovakia national team played Avenue in the inaugural Floodlight match. Still got the programme!

IMG_0098.jpg

Is this the only instance of a programme featuring a defunct club and a defunct nation?

This was the period when the more `discerning’ football supporter in Bradford went on Wallace Arnold bus  trips to see Huddersfield Town, Leeds United or Burnley who all played in higher standard football.  I must confess that my father took me to all these grounds when they were playing the `big guns’ in their division.   However, although the lower division stuff might not have compared with the old 2nd division where Ivor Allchurch and Johnny Haynes were weaving magic with their feet, there were still plenty of Bradford footballers I admired.

City had some fantastic centre forwards- John McCole, Derek Stokes and Bronco Layne, and also had in Bobby Webb a right winger I rated highly. I always thought Tom Flockett was rather `rustic’ but I liked the dependable wing-half Bruce Stowell. It puzzled me why the City fans should barrack the Jackson twins (Peter & David) the way they did, and they did! Maybe because their father was the manager!

As for Avenue, I admired Charlie Atkinson who had silky skills in midfield, and of course the hard man Jimmy Scoular. There was the tricky little winger Jimmy Anders, the young inside forward Ian Gibson and the ball-playing centre forward John Allan.  I rated the goalie Bert Gebbie and Don McCalman must have been one of the best centre halves in the lower division.

soccer star dec-1960

It would be almost a `collector’s item’ if one of the Bradford clubs appeared in my cherished Soccer Star and Football Monthly, but they did! What magazines! Soccer Star featured every team player, attendance and goal-scorer in every match in the Football League, and much more. One can argue that one can find this online today for nothing, but it means flicking in and out of screens forever!

bobby ham

The Football Monthly was probably more appealing for youngsters because many pictures were in glorious colour. This is of course common place today, but in those days it was really something else. On Christmas Day the only present I ever wanted was the Charles Buchan Topical Times Book of Football.

In those days one could get the Yorkshire Sports by 5:35pm at the local newsagents. This would give you every score, updated league tables and even an action pic of the Avenue or City home match. Talk about low tech in those days! How did they do it? Of course, after the match, my ear was glued to my `tranny’ to hear the running scores, and then there was the 5’o clock comprehensive results.  But, the day wasn’t complete without the Sports!

One Saturday evening as I queued for the Sports there was a long line of City supporters who noticed my green and white scarf.  These were mature men rather than teenagers, and in turn they abused me for daring to support both clubs. As an impressionable 12-year old I was quite distraught, but very puzzled how anybody could take offence at me supporting both clubs!

I had noticed that some City supporters cheered at half-time if Avenue were losing and I once heard the Avenue chant CITY-SHITTY break out. I could understand the rivalry but not the hostility. But, when I started to get grief at school from both sides of the Bradford football world I realised I couldn’t continue like this.

I couldn’t pinpoint one reason why I chose Avenue to support. My father had recently forbid to stand on the Spion Kop after one match when a burly City supporter nearly strangled me while he stole my scarfe (a City scarfe I hasten to add). I remember my father saying, “What kind of people stand on the Kop and don’t intervene in a case like that?” That did disturb me, but there were other factors in my decision.

I preferred Avenue’s ground, I also had affection for Park Avenue cricket-  and the rebel in me wanted to defy the City supporters at school that outnumbered the `green & white’ fans 10-1.

However, I still went in turn to City and Avenue alternative weeks and can’t remember suddenly `hating’ City or wanting them to lose. Of course, that all changed when the Bradford derbies recommenced!

The Hector era was magnificent and I believe he was virtually `given away’. Avenue scored loads of goals, but conceded almost as many. When the great man went the end was in sight.

bpa 1963-64

Kevin Hector is pictured 2nd from left, front row in this 1963/64 photo with Avenue wearing their change red, amber and black striped shirts.

Leeds United was becoming really huge at that time and I went a few times with the newly converted United fans.  I had no prejudice against Leeds through geographical reasons, but I hated the mean-spirited, over-physical approach and their reliance on an obsessive Revie-inspired gamesmanship. I’m convinced that this approach negated their trophy winning prowess. The trophy count could have been much more.

So when Avenue lost the right to play at Park Avenue that was me done with football.

Did I make the right decision in choosing Avenue over City? Most people will say NO emphatically. But, cricket became my No.1 sport and I regret nothing, and I am now quite happy watching grassroots pyramid stuff at Campion AFC or Eccleshill AFC.  This level needs to be supported- remember James Hanson?

Of course, I can now understand why people thought I was mad supporting both teams, especially as bigotry in soccer has now gone off the scale and is so pronounced that Everton fans object to Santa Claus because he wears red. But, a friend of my acquaintance who always supported City, and still does, openly admits he went to cheer on Leeds United in their glory days, and today roots for Huddersfield’s survival in the Premier League. Now that won’t go down very well with many City fans, but is it really a crime?

In modern times City have surpassed hugely the times I remembered back in the day. They have had genuine international footballers in their ranks and have re-invented the club entirely. There is no comparison to the aforementioned days. But, players like John Reid, Stan Harland, Ken Leek, Trevor Hockey, John Hall and Brian Kelly hold a special memory for me as they plied their trade in that ageing, basic ground.

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